Great strides made as Britons step out

More than 350,000 walks, or one every one and a half minutes, were downloaded from the National Trust website over the last year.

And four of the top ten walks were in the South West, including the most popular – a walk along the Bath Skyline, which was the most popular for the second year running with 14,000 downloads.

The other top South West walks were Stourhead in Wiltshire (seventh with 4,964 downloads), Brownsea Island in Dorset (eighth with 4,724 downloads) and Lansallos in Cornwall (10th with 4,177downloads). All of the walks are free to download and include a map and details of the things that you might see en route.

Walking on the South West coast path between Pencarrow Head and Lansallos Cove, Cornwall.

In 2010 and the total number of downloads increased by 40 per cent compared to 2009 as more Britons sought out walking routes for days out or during weekends away.

Jo Burgon, Outdoor Programme Director at the National Trust, said: “We have seen a remarkable growth in the popularity of walking in the past couple of years.  Our downloadable walks cater for a wide range of walkers with everything from short circular routes to the more challenging hill walks.

“We’re finding that more people want to get out into the great outdoors but often need to be pointed in the right direction. You don’t have to be an expert to go walking, you just need to enjoy getting outside.”

There are 72 different walks to choose from on the website in the South West out of a total of 240 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Together, the 240 walks cover a total of 858 miles, the distance between Lands End and John O’ Groats. All of the walks can be downloaded for free from www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walks

New South West entries on the website include five walks near Arlington Court in Devon, Lacock and Avebury in Wiltshire, Ebworth, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, Lamberts Castle in Dorset, and routes at Cotehele, Trelissick and Fowey in Cornwall.

August was the most popular month for walking with more than 50,000 downloads, or more than one every minute, with the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend the most popular day of the year.

The Bath skyline walk topped the walks chart for the second successive year with over 14,000 downloads during 2010, fifty per cent more than the second placed walk Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

This popular six mile circular walk has spectacular panoramic views of the world heritage city and a short diversion takes you to the stunning Prior Park gardens.

In third place was Flatford Mill in Suffolk, made famous by Constable’s landscape paintings.

An ambitious target has been set to have 1,000 downloadable trails on the National Trust website by spring 2012.  These will include the popular walks together with cycle routes, horse-riding routes and canoe trails.

The first ever National Trust walking festival is set to take place this year between the 22 October 30 October.

Meet your native ponies

Calling pony-mad people everywhere: not only do you have the Shetland pony rides to look forward to at Arlington Court (see ‘What’s new for you to discover this spring?’), but this Easter sees the opening of an exciting new venture at Parke, near Bovey Tracey in Devon, which you will definitely want to visit.

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) is a charity that was set up in 2005 to protect and conserve the indigenous moorland ponies that have roamed Dartmoor for thousands of years. Opening at Easter is the DPHT’s visitor centre on the National Trust’s Parke estate on the southern edge of Dartmoor. The centre will include a classroom and internal pony pens, so that visitors can enjoy meeting the ponies in even the wettest weather.

The National Trust has been working with the DPHT since 2007, offering training for our wardens and rangers to help them deal with semi-feral ponies on conservation grazing sites throughout the country. Dartmoor ponies are widely used by the Trust to graze coastal scrub and areas of heathland. Versatile and adaptable beasts with fantastic temperaments, they are able to graze poor vegetation to the benefit of all manner of native wildlife needing cropped turf to thrive, including birds, butterflies and wildflowers.

Conservation grazing at Pencarrow Head, near Polruan, Cornwall.

Pictured are Dartmoor ponies grazing the south Cornish coast at Lantic Bay.

For more information on the work of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, visit their website: dpht.co.uk

Whilst you’re at Parke seeing the ponies, why not have a go at one of our orienteering routes? They’re great fun for families – find out more at: nationaltrust.org.uk/parkeestate.

The joys of a good walk

‘I have two doctors: my left leg and my right’ G.M Trevelyan.

After the indoor excesses of Christmas, what could feel better for body, senses and soul than to put on a pair of boots and go for a good walk? A blast of air so fresh you can taste it, a favourite landscape all to yourself, curious things washed up on an empty beach, the first touch of spring colour amidst the bare bones of winter, an unfamiliar bit of country to discover with friends, sharing a flask of soup in a sheltered hollow on the cliffs: walking at this time of the year has to be one of the great joys of living in the South West.

If you need a new idea, or want to explore a place you’ve never been before, why not have a look at the many downloadable walks on the Trust’s website? Go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walks and you will find them listed by theme and by area. New walks are being added all the time, so keep an eye out.

For the extra encouragement of a sociable walk, plus the chance to learn new insights, you could join one of the guided walks led by Trust staff or volunteers around a patch they know well. Coming up soon are walks at Lanhydrock, Loe Pool, Godolphin and Cotehele in Cornwall and Plymbridge woods near Plymouth; guided garden tours at Greenway in South Devon and at Dunster Castle and Montacute in Somerset, and there’s still a few of the popular ‘Sunday Rambles and Roasts’ to catch at Montacute.

Festivals of walks

Now in its 11th year, the North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival takes place in spring and autumn. This spring, National Trust rangers will be leading walks at Baggy Point, Watersmeet and Bucks Mills in Devon on 29 April and 4 May, and the Holnicote estate and the Quantocks in Somerset on 5 and 7 May, looking at birds and other wildlife, history and archaeology as well as just enjoying some magnificent views. More info. at exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk

Cotehele is running a festival of walks in April, with a variety of themes and covering different places on the large estate including the outlying Iron Age hill fort at Cadsonbury. For details, see your events bulletin or contact Cotehele direct.

Later in the year, look out for details of a new walking festival being planned by the Trust for the Lizard area in September.

And now for a few of our favourite early spring walks…

Lucy Parkins, Visitor Services Manager for North Cornwall

Top of my list has to be the stunning circular walk that includes the Valency Valley in Boscastle. The smell of wild garlic combined with the simple but beautiful sight of bluebells emerging never fails to put a smile on my face. One of the great things about this walk is the inclusion of a section of coast path as well, and so it ticks all the boxes! If I really fancy treating myself, I’ll pop into one of the pubs on the route to enjoy a pint of the local brew.

Download this walk at: nationaltrust.org.uk/walks, or pick up the Trust’s ‘Coast of Cornwall’ leaflet no.3 Boscastle from local outlets.

Janet and John Stitson, Volunteer ‘Weekend Wardens’ at Saltram, nr Plymouth

One of our favourite walks takes us from Saltram car park, up a pathway between fields to the old road which ran from Plymstock to Plympton. This is now a peaceful path with stunning views towards the city of Plymouth and the sea beyond. We continue through the woods towards Stag Lodge, where snowdrops, wood anemones and, later, bluebells abound. We walk down the Dell, enjoying the magnificent rhododendrons and trees bursting into new life, and on down to the estuary at Point Cottage. The estuary itself is always interesting for its varied wildlife; we pass by the Amphitheatre and the bird hide and walk across to see the snowdrops and daffodils in Longbridge Drive before returning to the car park.

Saltram estate walks guide available from…

Sam Arthur, Volunteer Warden at Lanhydrock, nr Bodmin

My personal spring favourite starts out from in front of the great house and heads up along the edge of the woodland garden, with its vivid colours from the flowering camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias. Having passed the old head gardener’s cottage, you’re rewarded by a bench with glorious views across the Fowey valley. Heading downhill, and taking a hard left at the hairpin bend, you find yourself surrounded by huge beech trees. Their translucent lime-green spring leaves shed dappled light across a sea of bluebells, celandines, stitchwort and wood anemones: it’s by far my favourite spot on the whole estate. Over to your right you can see the remains of old tin workings, as well as leats feeding a historic mill and stretches of the 8ft wall that kept herds of deer inside the 17th-century deer park.

Turning down to the Fowey River, you’re surrounded by primroses and the distinctive smelling wild garlic (if you’re feeling adventurous, try nibbling on the young leaves). Walking upstream, through masses of wild daffodils, keep an eye out for dippers – and you might even catch a glimpse of an elusive otter or kingfisher. On reaching the ancient Respryn Bridge, cross back over the river and head for Lanhydrock house up the avenue with its double row of over 300 enormous beeches. Ahead is the gatehouse, one of the oldest buildings on the estate, and beyond it the possibility of a warm drink and cake in the cosy café as a perfect end to your walk.

Estate walks guide available from Lanhydrock shop (open weekends Jan & Feb, then daily from 19 Feb).

Tom Wood, Ranger for the Teign Valley

Tom Wood National Trust

Tom Wood, Ranger for Teign Valley

I like to walk the classic circular route from the car park by Castle Drogo, over Piddledown Common (where the gorse is always in flower) and along the spectacular Hunter’s Path, where on frosty mornings you can look down and see the trees in the valley encased in ice crystals and looking like something from a book. The route drops down through the woods to where Fingle Bridge crosses the River Teign and it is here that you notice the flushes of new green buds on the trees, not yet open but ready to spring into being. That sudden change can happen rapidly in this part of the world; one day the scene is wintry and bare, and the next trees are in leaf and spring is well and truly here.

As I walk from Fingle Bridge upstream, the river still has its winter level but the water is stained not by mud but by the tannins of the trees and the peat which make the Teign look like a fine cup of tea. Approaching the edge of the old deer park, you can see the deer wall alongside the route; then I cross the river again on the suspension bridge, with great views up and down the river along the pool created by the builder of Castle Drogo partly as an area for him to fish. Then it’s the long slow climb back up though the woods, spurred on by promise of something tasty to look forward to in the Drogo café.

Walks leaflet available at Drogo visitor centre (open daily).